By: Jafe Arnold
CSS participates in conference “Balkans and Middle East: Interconnections and Intersections”
n Wednesday morning, March 24th in Belgrade, Serbia, several dozen students, scholars, analysts, and distinguished guests including diplomatic representatives from Tunisia, Libya, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Republika Srpska gathered at the University of Belgrade’s Faculty of International Politics and Security for the conference “The Balkans and the Middle East: Interconnections and Intersections.” Organized by the faculty in cooperation with Katehon Think Tank and with the participation of the Center for Syncretic Studies, the conference sought to discuss pressing geopolitical and geo-strategic issues in the format of a scientific and diplomatic roundtable, and present Katehon’s promising new initiatives in the field of international relations. The issues specifically addressed by the conference included the refugee crisis, cybersecurity, economic cooperation amidst market crises, and the role of ex-colonial powers in conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East. The Center was represented by Director Joaquin Flores, who chaired the event, Jafe Arnold, and Novak Drashkovic.
Following a brief welcome speech by the dean of the faculty, Dr. Violeta Rashkovic Talovic, the Center’s Joaquin Flores opened the conference by stressing the gravity of current geopolitical conflicts, the intensity of intersection of which, Flores asserted, has reached a level unparalleled since the Second World War. Flores emphasized that Western analysts have not only more often than not failed to understand the profound global processes unfolding in Eurasia, especially in the critical node points of the Balkans and the Middle East, but have also misled the public in painting false pictures of these developments that fit the narrative of neo-colonialism. Having explained the importance of the conference’s determination to provide a sober view of current crises and geo-strategic issues, Flores passed the floor to Russian geopolitician, Katehon representative, and prominent Eurasianist Leonid Savin.
After recalling that the conference was being held on the 17th anniversary of NATO’s bombardment of Yugoslavia in the context of the Kosovo conflict, Savin proceeded to present Katehon Think Tank, its website, and its foundational principles which uphold multipolarity and the self-determination of peoples, cultures, and civilizations against unipolarity and colonialism.
Savin pointed to the importance of finding real answers and solutions for current crises in international relations and security in the Middle East and the Balkans. To this end, Savin posited that his as well as Katehon as a whole’s perception of conflict resolution and analysis begins at the level of ideas, which must be introduced to the international community, and then be realized on the successive strategic and tactical levels. Savin highlighted the similarities, differences, and dynamic relationship between these two regions, their geopolitical classification, and suggested that framework for analysis and understanding relevant international relations can be found in appealing to Tradition and particularly the Byzantine heritage which once touched both zones. The syncretization of geopolitics and tradition, not coincidentally, is the watchword of Katehon Think Tank.
The localization of the Balkans and the Middle East in Mackinder’s geopolitical inner crescent of Rimland and Brzezinski’s targeted Eurasian arc, in Savin’s assessment, renders the regions especially susceptible to the Huntingtonian “clash of civilizations” which in itself questions the Treaty of Westphalia and Liberalism’s normalization of the nation-state and one-sided globalization. Savin suggested that the search for a synthesis of the Middle Eastern and Balkan civilizational experiences bodes the most promising approach for constructing a multi-polar world and the excavation of deeper traditional principles of international relations latent in Christian Neoplatonism and certain Islamic schools, whose students, as Savin said, “will ultimately be better equipped to understand the interests and needs of the other side than those who receive a secular education at Oxford or Harvard according to the Anglo-Saxon templates of the liberal tradition that is essentially anti-religious.”
Savin’s feature presentation was followed by remarks from Dr. Misha Stojadinovic, who underlined the geopolitical importance of the Middle East and the Balkans for their frequent targeting under the false crusade of “democracy” and “human rights.” Dr. Stojadinovic in particular pointed to the cruciality of intellectuals, the “conscience of our society,” who can see through the foggy haze of such jingoisms as “humanitarian intervention” and seek to comprehend the deep historical trends conditioning war and peace in these “powder keg” regions. Echoing Savin, Stojadinovic referred to Brzezinski’s assignment of such a key geopolitical importance to the Middle East to the point that domination of this regions signifies the domination of resources with which Eurasia can be strategically subdued. At the same time, Dr. Stojadinovic suggested that although great powers are undeniably prevalent actors in asserting their interests in such important peripheries as the Balkans and the Middle East, the countries and peoples of these areas must strive to break the vicious divide-and-conquer “powder keg” cycle and use their resources for self-determination.
To this Flores added that one of the most necessary tasks, which the conference demonstrated in practice, is the de-colonization of the expert community in the Middle East and the Balkans. The critical thinking which Western analytics lack or obscure with neo-idealism in international relations, Flores outlined, must be overcome with a syncretic approach taking into account both worthy old and promising new conceptions of geopolitics. In short, as Flores has written elsewhere, the manufactured hyper-reality of the information war and geopolitical confrontation must be deconstructed to expose the paradigmatic transformations inherent to the struggle between Atlanticism and Eurasianism in the intellectual realm. This is especially pertinent in the Balkans and Middle East, where anti-unipolar initiatives are faced with the challenge of reconsidering their regions’, states’, and cultures’ perceptions of themselves, their histories, their role in the contemporary world, and the far-reaching implications of what is habitually shelved under the cliche of “the new Cold War.” As all of the speakers noted, this dilemma is multi-layered and multi-dimensional, and, one can deduce, requires a syncretic approach that can transcend the typical political divisions and ideological cliches which have historically realized the “divide and conquer” scenario in the Balkan and Middle Eastern pivots of Eurasia.
The conference then transitioned into a lively Q&A discussion. Questions and comments presented by guests and participants ranged from the role of Serbia in Europe to the limitations of the nation-state in the conditions of globalization, reforming the United Nations, Russia’s increasing role as a global alternative to US hegemony, the possible trajectory of cyber-warfare practices, the centrality of the conflict in Syria to the future of the Middle East, the supposed Sunni-Shiite divide, Turkey’s questionable new conduct, and more.
In concluding the discussion, Flores dwelled on the constructive and positive work of the conference and Katehon in identifying the core of geopolitical issues which NATO and Western analysts do not or refuse to uncover. The conference ended with a final promotion by Savin of Katehon’s international effort to produce paradigm-changing analyses and an additional round of thanks extended from the panel to the Faculty of International Politics and Security.
The general understanding illuminated by the conference was that the liberal framework not only obscures processes undergoing in the Middle East and the Balkans, but is indeed at the core of the problematic conflicts and crises infecting, and being enforced upon, these cradles of intersecting civilizations. Overall, the conference’s speakers and participants shed light on the increasingly visible emergence of a multi-polar world in tandem with which the de-colonization of the expert community and academic fields can contribute to a dialogue rather than clash of civilizations.
Full conference footage: